Hill Country Gardens
Gardening in the Texas Hill Country
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Deer-proofing Your Yard

Suggestions for Deer-proofing Your Yard
by Evelyn Nugent, Little Bend Nursery
Preventive Care while plants are getting established

Even the most deer resistant plants should be protected after planting. Deer, especially young deer, are curious and they like to taste plants. A species that deer will browse as a newly planted small plant will often be left untouched as a mature plant.

Many people are surprised when they find newly purchased plants pulled out of the ground but not eaten. While the deer are experimenting, they will often chew off and spit out pieces of plants that are supposed to be deer proof. In the process, of course, they disfigure the plant.

New growth is tender and has not had a chance to develop a strong odor or other qualities that would help protect it. Protect every new plant for at least a few months until it can become established. Plants that are almost always avoided by the deer, such as rosemary, require the shortest amount of protection. Plants that deer will graze on when food is scarce will require longer protection.

Planting deer resistant plants

When seeking plants for a deer resistant landscaping; choose those which are prickly, bitter, spicy, toxic, hairy (fuzzy), course, aromatic or have a milky sap. Deer are very inconsistent when it comes to their diet; they have preferences but no absolutes.

Except for toxic plants, taste varies deer to deer, year to year and even by season among the same deer. Something "resistant" may get browsed periodically, but usually not devastated. If there is intensive feeding pressure caused by drought or a high deer density, deer will browse even the most undesirable plants. Thus, other methods will be necessary to control damage.
Unpalatable landscape plants won’t deter antler rubbing damage. All trees will become deer resistant after growth exceeds browsing height of 5' and a diameter greater than 6”. Only physical protection can reduce or prevent deer antler rub damage to trees and shrubs. Tree shelters, wire cages, and plastic netting erected around individual plants can exclude deer, and can prevent them from causing damage.

Fencing options
You don’t have to fence in your entire yard to create protected areas. Mesh or polypropylene fencing is easy to install and is virtually invisible from a distance. The mesh should be supported by posts spaced 3-4 yards apart. In wooded areas, fencing staples can be used to attach fencing to trees. The netting should be 4’ high and the area should be limited to 4-5’ in width since deer avoid tight, penned-in-sites. This type of fencing can be made very unobtrusive by planting highly deer resistant plants in front of it.
Garden netting may protect flowerbeds and other low-growing plants. Wooden stakes and self-locking ties can be used to anchor the netting over individual plants or groups of plants. You can also put wire cages around individual shrubs or small trees to protect them until they outgrow the browse line.
You can also create a barrier to a small garden by using fishing line (50 lb test or more) or a similar monofilament material. In general, deer will not jump over anything they can’t see. Several strands of the line at a height of two to three feet around a small bed will actually keep a deer from jumping into the area. The line must be far enough from the plants that the deer can’t reach their head over and eat what is within their reach. This type of fence is very effective.

Electric fencing is another effective option which is easy to install and not too obtrusive. But, deer may learn to clear the strand. You may need to periodically move the wire height or location to maintain its effectiveness. Electric fences can also be a hazard to children so caution should be used when installing this type of fence.
Many people say that the only way you can really keep deer out is by installing eight to ten foot fences. This is not a practical suggestion for most homeowners but works very well in more rural areas.
Border Planting and Camouflage Gardening
Deer are creatures of habit and generally follow the same routine and certain pathways each day. If you provide a meal for them, they will be back looking for more tomorrow. Putting plants around the perimeter of your yard that have strong unpleasant scents help keep the deer from entering your yard.

You can also use this idea to protect plants that don’t have strong odors or an unpleasant texture. Try putting a sprig of rosemary with a rose for a few hours. When you pick up the rose, you still smell the rosemary.

When using camouflage gardening, keep in mind that mature plants have a stronger smell than young plants. Consider buying larger size plants or buying a larger quantity so you can mass the plants together to create a strong odor. Also remember that many toxic plants are not repellents even though the deer will not eat them

The deer lady rating was developed using this concept. Refer to “Camouflage Gardening” by Patti Simmons for more information.The list of plants in each category can be obtained on the internet at the
Native Plant Society of Texas 

Use of Repellents

There are numerous sprays that can be used including some you can make yourself. Repellents help most before deer get acclimated to eating your plants so you need to respond to the first sign of damage. The best way to proceed with repellents is to try several different ones and see which will work the best in your particular situation.

One of the ones found most effective in our area is Deer Away. This spray will generally last 5 weeks per application. If you want to try mixing your own spray, the best scent repellents contain garlic and fermented egg solids.

One recipe is: Mix three rotten eggs or a quart of sour milk in a gallon of water. Add a teaspoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of finely ground chili powder or Tabasco sauce. Mix thoroughly and put the solution into a spray bottle. Spray favorite deer plants. It will have to be reapplied in about a month or after heavy rains. The mixture has a strong smell, but the smell will not be noticeable to you after the mixture has dried on plants. No repellent will be active forever and deer may get used to egg sprays. When this happens, try other measures.

Taste repellents, also called contact repellents, have an impact when a deer taste the repellent. This means a deer will take a few bites before they realize the plant taste horrible. These repellents are generally meant for non-food type plants and must cover the entire plant to work. You must also re-apply the repellent as it ages and on new foliage.
Tablets, though expensive, are an excellent long term taste repellent. The tablets are absorbed through the root system of a plant to make them taste bad. A single tablet can last from one to three years. The benefit of taste repellents is the ability to protect your plants without keeping deer from your yard if you want to enjoy watching the deer. But research trials have shown that odor based products usually outperform taste based materials.

There are all kinds of other “repellents” (human hair, fabric softener strips, bars of soap, motion-sensor lights, playing radios, etc.) that people find to keep deer away from their plants. Deer quickly adjust to these “repellents”, and no single one seems to be reliable for more than a few weeks. Change is the key for these repellents to work at all.

Suggested Reference Books
Gardening in Deer Country, by Vincent Drzewucki Jr.
Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden, by Rhonda Massingham Hart